I started taking an SSRI on January 15, 2022. I feel like that date will forever be burned into my memory because it’s a day that marked a huge change for me. At the time, I felt pretty hopeless and never imagined I could be in the place I am today.
Though there were some ups and downs when I first started Prozac (Fluoxetine), I’m just over four months into this journey and so grateful for the progress I’ve seen. I’m sharing this because I wish more women would talk about mental health and what has helped them. I have benefited from some of my friends and influencers talk transparently and openly about their use of antidepressant and anxiety medication and it helped me immensely to overcome my fears and gave me hope that I could get better, too. By sharing my experience, I hope I can help just one person to feel empowered to take action and not suffer like I did for so many years.
I had a lot of fears about taking medication. In 2020, I started Buspirone and thought I was doing better – but the truth was, I wasn’t, and it took me a long time to admit that to myself (I think some of the initial feelings that the drug was working may have been a placebo effect because my physical anxiety symptoms never improved and I still had to use rescue drugs). I finally got to a point where I could no longer accept feeling the way I did day in and day out. Eventually, I was more scared of NOT taking medication and knew I deserved to live a life out of fight or flight mode.
It’s so important to remember that it can take the body 6-8 weeks to fully adjust to an SSRI. So many people give up or think their medication isn’t working, but I urge you to stick out the hard days (and there are many!) because now that I’m on the other side of it, I’m in a much better place and I want that for other women, too.
Here are the biggest positive changes I’ve seen:
- I’m more emotionally regulated: I used to struggle a lot with jumping from 0-60 about everything. Now, I take the time to think before I react and I have a better handle on my emotions instead of just having an outburst over something small/insignificant. I can bring myself to a place where I take a deep breath and react differently.
- I’m less irritable: this kind goes with emotional regulation, but small things used to set me off and I’d spiral into an irritable mood easily.
- I’m no longer triggered by loud noises: I used to have a very low tolerance for loud, sudden noises. They would cause my heart to race and I’d go into a deep “fight or flight” mode that was hard to come out of. Noises would also trigger my irritability and sometimes they could even start a panic attack if they really startled me. That just doesn’t happen to me anymore.
- My heart doesn’t race anymore: It takes A LOT to make my heart race now. I have to REALLY be startled and when it does happen, it’s much less intense and goes away quickly. This physical symptom going away is what made me realize my medication was working. One day I realized that my heart didn’t race all the time anymore over the littlest things. It was such a foreign feeling, but now that I’m living without my heart pounding constantly, it’s truly the best feeling ever.
- I’m not in fight or flight mode 24/7: This is the most profound change for me and has had the biggest overall impact on my health and wellbeing. Being in flight or flight mode constantly is a huge stressor on the mind and body. Finally being at a good baseline means I can live life with more clarity, calm and less stress. I never knew what it was like to not live in fight or flight mode…my baseline anxiety was always just…there. It is truly incredible to see and experience these real and tangible differences.
- I’m dizzy less often: I can’t determine if the drug I was on previously (BusPar/buspirone) was causing me to have more dizzy spells – I would notice within 10 minutes of taking the dose I would get a little dizzy but brushed it off as it’s a known side effect. I had a ton of testing done on my heart as a result of my dizzy/lightheaded episodes when going from sitting to standing, but my results showed I don’t have any structural heart problems, but am prone to syncope since I technically failed the tilt table test. Since being on Prozac, I don’t get dizzy after my medication dose and my episodes of been dizzy when going from sitting to standing have reduced by 80%.
- I sleep better: I used to wake up a lot throughout the night and sometimes I would have trouble getting back to sleep or my mind would race with anxious thoughts. Now, if I wake up at night, I have an easy time falling back to sleep. I also feel more rested when I wake. It’s worth noting that when I first started Prozac, I actually slept OK but woke up feeling incredibly groggy and had zero energy. This lasted a couple of weeks and then went away. Many of the side effects you experience initially can be temporary.
- I don’t google health things constantly: My health anxiety has decreased significantly. I no longer spend hours googling symptoms or convincing myself that I have some kind of scary condition. I’ve had several medical tests since starting Prozac and typically I would be calling the office everyday for results and having on and off anxiety attacks convincing myself there was something really wrong. I don’t do that anymore. I go into medical testing and appointments now thinking “it’s great I’m getting this checked out to have some peace of mind. If it ends up being something serious, I’ll worry about it then.” I was never able to do that before. Even when my kids were sick recently, I was so much less stressed and able to be the mom I wanted to be.
- I have more energy and focus: This has been one of my most cherished results of being on an SSRI. Prior to starting Prozac, I hadn’t exercised (other than walking) for 7-8 months prior. I had low energy and motivation and just felt like it was “too much” to partake in daily movement (even though when I was exercising consistently, I knew how good it made me feel). I now look forward to moving my body and have no problems finding the motivation. I’m also more focused in general – my mind doesn’t wander as much and I complete tasks more easily (I think the SSRI has also helped my ADHD). I think calming down my mind and reducing anxiety has allowed me to thrive in other ways I used to struggle with like doing tasks I don’t enjoy or find tedious.
- I no longer have anticipatory anxiety: This is such a big one. I used to have what I call “anticipatory anxiety.” No matter what was on my calendar, I would start to develop anxious feelings in my stomach and chest – even if it was something I was looking forward to! I would just have this unsettled feeling about getting places “on time” even if it was an errand that didn’t have a specific time it needed to start at. This would often leave me tossing and turning at night because I was riling myself up with anxiety about what I had to do the next day.
- Less headaches: I can’t tell if this is a coincidence or not, but my headaches are virtually gone (or it’s rare for me to get them now) since being on an SSRI.
- I haven’t touched a rescue drug in months: During the transition off of buspirone and onto Prozac, I was taking Klonopin several times a week to be able to sleep and for anxiety attacks (it’s unfortunately normal for anxiety to increase when first starting an SSRI before things level out). I don’t remember the last time I took one – it has been months. Once my body adjusted to Prozac, I just didn’t have those physical symptoms and anxious feelings anymore and no longer need it. Having said that, of course I keep it on hand just in case, but it feels amazing to be in a place where I feel so regulated and stable that I don’t even have to think about rescue meds.
Though the pros greatly outweigh any side effects or cons for me, I think it’s important to share those too.
- Night sweats: I don’t have these every night (thank goodness!) but I occasionally get night sweats. They’re not as intense as my postpartum night sweats were, but still not fun. Thankfully it’s not every night.
- More frequent/intense dreams: I feel I dream more often and more intensely now. I don’t mind it – I’ve always had pretty vivid dreams, especially when I was younger, so they feel more like that. I don’t always remember them, but I dream pretty much every night. I do want to note that my dreams aren’t horrific or nightmares or anything like that.
- Digestion: about 2.5-3 months into taking Prozac, I started to experience irregularity. I was always very regular and this threw me off. I also started to experience bloating and constipation. I was able to resolve this by taking magnesium (I was already on a probiotic). You can read more about those, here.
I hope this post was helpful for anyone considering getting help for their anxiety. Medication is of course not the only path, but it’s what has worked to get me out of a constant cycle of anxiety and be able to focus on re-aligning myself and moving forward. I also plan to go to therapy again as I think I’d be more receptive to gaining benefit from it while medicated, but due to the pandemic it’s been more challenging to secure appointments.
Please let me know if you have any questions and always remember that no matter how great someone’s life looks from the outside, we can never know people’s struggles and that compassion and kindness are always good choices.
Crystal Evans says
im reading all of this and almost everything you’ve mentioned i am having the same symptoms. I feel helpless my dr just wont listen- the drew blood and said they only thing is my cholesterol levels were elevated and i need t watch my diet. i am going to seek a second opinion later this month. i am in the houston area as well do you have a dr you could recommend?
I’m sorry you’re struggling. I would just self-refer to a psychiatrist. You can find a psychiatrist who is in-network for you via your insurance’s website portal.
Yes yes yes yes!!! I started taking Lexapro in March 2019 when I weaned my youngest daughter and it is literally a life-saver. So many things that felt literally impossible (like going to the playground with my kids or driving in traffic) are now just normal parts of my everyday life! My heart used to race like crazy when my alarm would go off — no longer the case now. I so appreciate when people give their honest testimony of needing and using anxiety medications because I had so much shame in the beginning, but now I see that it’s legitimately a necessity for my quality of life. I wish it was magical in that I would never feel anxiety again or get irritable, but I am still human and experience a full range of emotions. But it’s nice to know that I am taking what I need and CAN still “feel my feelings,” just not at the expense of my complete mental health. Hugs to you!
I can relate to everything you wrote! Thank you for sharing your journey with me!
Diana Kinahan says
Veronika, reading your post was like walking down memory lane. I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks intermittently from high school through having my babies. By the time I had my fourth I was one step away from being fully housebound. I also suffered from dizziness that was never able to be diagnosed and written off by medical doctors as “positional benign vertigo” that many people experience and no biggie – unless you have to live with it! I finally started seeking psychiatric help after my last baby was born and just “staying home” wasn’t enough to calm my flight and fight response. Just the thought of even walking up to my second floor to retrieve her from her crib and that I would be dizzy on the stairs and drop her gives you an idea of where I was. I fought my psychiatrist on trying any SSRIs because I had a fear of medicines – thinking I would be “out of it”, not understanding why I needed an anti-depressant when I wasn’t clinically depressed, etc. I finally relented and went on Paxil. I had nothing to lose as I had already sacrificed SO much. It was a game changer! It did the trick! Within a few months I was able to function like the mom and wife I wanted to be. I was able to leave the house, alone, and do things I hadn’t done in years. I slept through the night as I hadn’t been able to in years. My dizzy spells significantly decreased and when I did feel dizzy, I did not panic as I did in the past which only served to make them a hundred times worse. All in all, I was finally living life. There was a ton of regret on my part that I waited so long to go on medicine and sacrificed years of my three oldest children’s lives that I’ll never be able to get back. As such, I made it a point to speak loud and proud to any other woman I knew or heard about who was suffering as I was and was hesitant about going on meds. They do work and even if you have to try different ones and different dosages until you hit on the right one for you, it is so worth it. A side benefit was I sailed through menopause as well. I remember asking my doctor, “Will I have to stay on these forever?” He said we’ll take it as it comes – get through these years with young children and then we’ll re-evaluate. My children are all grown now – my youngest graduated college last week and I’m a grandmother to 3 with another on the way. I’ve been off medication for about 5 years. I actually did not plan on going off them but my mom had gotten sick and I was going back and forth to her house each day to care for her. I used to take my medicine while I was cooking dinner each night and therefore kept it in my kitchen. Since I was at her house many a night to cook dinner for my parents and get her ready for bed, I would miss my dosage unintentionally. I ended up kind of weaning myself without even trying to and then one day I realized I was only taking it a couple of times a week and functioning the same so I completely stopped. It’s been 5 years. Brain chemicals do shift on their own which might have explained why I no longer needed it but I know if I ever need to go back on them, they are there and there is no need to suffer. Continue to speak of your journey for the women of your generation and know how important it is to “normalize” SSRI usage as these anxiety genes do tend to run in families and there is a good chance our children may need them at one time or another. I never want to see another person, especially a mom who so many rely upon, to suffer in silence and not enjoy the gift of motherhood. Enjoying your Grandmillenial Facebook group that my oldest daughter signed me up to even though I cringe to see all the items I owned as a young married bride through into the 90’s and then got rid of to decorate my house more “younger” back in style! Glad to see you doing what you love and using your platform to better the lives of all women!